BANGOR, Maine — On an average day, half of all the calls the Bangor Police Department receives are about people struggling with a mental health crisis, according to Sgt. Jason McAmbley, the department’s public information officer.
Right now, police officers respond to these calls and perform a welfare check. But some changes are coming to how these calls are handled in the city.
A new program calls for sending social workers to perform these welfare checks instead of police officers.
A copy of the program provided to NEWS CENTER Maine by the city of Bangor explained the program is intended to reduce unnecessary or unwanted police contact between law enforcement and people who are in a mental health crisis. At the same time, it will free up police officers to focus more on crime and protecting the community.
“We’re thinking that with the formation of this team, it’s going to eliminate perhaps 50% of [mental health] calls in the first year, which will be 2,000 calls for service," McAmbley said. "That really adds up."
Under the new program, a crisis intervention team made up of social workers would respond when a call comes in for a welfare check. Their goal will be to de-escalate the situation, calm the person down, and then refer them to services.
McAmbly told NEWS CENTER Maine social workers would be able to call on a police officer, as needed, for help.
“We’ll partner with them for as long as it takes," MaCambly explained. "We’re going to work together and see if we can make this thing a reality and help the people that we’re serving a little bit better -- and help the police go back to the reason they got this job in the first place, which is to have an impact on crime."
The city doesn't have an exact date for when this program will start, but the city manager says they are planning to post the job openings for the new team this month.
The city has granted the Bangor Police Department more than $280,000 in its annual budget this year to fund the new program.